A strange new cinematic sub-genre has emerged recently: dramas of late-middle-age starring members of the original cast -- the "Not Ready for Prime-Time Players" -- of "Saturday Night Live". Steve Martin's *Shopgirl*, based on his novella, is the latest entry. One wonders, with no small sense of dread, what's going to come next: Dan Ackroyd as a lonely widower facing prostate cancer? Jane Curtin as a retiring waitress who is faced with the choice of either paying her heating bill or continuing her Zocor prescription? Chevy Chase battling a Viagra addiction? It's becoming apparent that Bill Murray's existential angst isn't his alone. The Baby Boomers have officially turned 60 this year. What this means for the rest of us is that we'll have to face old age with them, given this generation's fondness for navel gazing. Expect a slew of movies in the next several years on the topic of aging gracefully or otherwise. We may even have a sequel to *The Big Chill*, in which the characters will make passes at their grandkids' wives or husbands.
For, as Steve Martin makes clear, Free Love is still an option for these aging hippies. He plays Ray Porter, an incalculably wealthy computer tycoon who divides his time between Seattle and Los Angeles. (He jets back and forth between them on a private plane.) While in L.A., he goes to Saks Fifth Avenue and buys a pair of elegant black gloves, becomes smitten with girl who sells him the gloves, and somehow gets her address and SENDS the gloves to her apartment along with a note asking her to dinner. Claire Danes' Mirabelle, a reserved transplant from Vermont, is the perfect prey for this roué. Martin contrasts Mirabelle with one of her co-workers, a classless, slutty Bridgette Wilson-Sampras, the type who would be too cynically wise to actually fall in love with the old man. For, despite Ray's early protestation to the contrary, Mirabelle's adoring devotedness is exactly what he wants out of this relationship of convenience. He can dominate an innocent girl with the unruffled ease to which he's become accustomed.
I'm afraid I'm not buying any of this. Martin quite explicitly makes Ray a monster, but then goes out of his way to make sure that we like him. After all, he takes Mirabelle to the doctor when she's depressed and later on pays off her college loan. Martin then exacerbates matters by having Ray actually verbalize his awareness of his own fundamental indecency: he says things like, "The financial stuff I can help you with. It's the other stuff . . ." and so on. Oh, please. WHY must we like Ray Porter, anyway? Does it have something to do with the fact that he is Steve Martin's creation, perhaps? Never underestimate the egotism of writers.
And to make sure that the 60-year-old seems like a Dream Come True for Mirabelle, Martin conceives his more age-appropriate romantic rival Jeremy (the grotesquely hairy Jason Schwartzman) as a borderline retard with the most obscure profession I've yet seen in film: a stencil artist for guitar amplifiers. Jeremy lumbers around the early portions of the film in slack-jawed idiocy, leaving in his wake, Pig Pen-like, a cloud of body odor and a trail of body hair. He keeps hitting up Mirabelle for money in order to "pay" for their dates. He drives a crappy car. Get the picture? Later in the film, Jeremy becomes a mature adult after listening to cheesy self-help tapes while touring as a roadie with a rock band, the maturity made evident by Schwartzman's shaved face, slicked-back hair, and natty white suit (by a name-designer) that looks to be pulled from the rack of the Miami Vice fashion police. (By the way, what IS it with these type of movies having a recurring motif of self-help tapes? -- cf. *Lost in Translation*. This is something MARTIN'S generation does! The Dot Net kids mock that stuff!) I'm pretty positive that Martin wrote the novella with a possible film in mind in which he would star as Ray -- and, if so, what a stunning display of pettiness, to say nothing of sheer egomania. Some competition, eh? Do Ray and Jeremy really constitute the choices for a beautiful girl in her twenties: a 60-year-old roué and a slacker who behaves like a 12-year-old? You know, French films frequently tackle this subject matter, but the girl is given a reasonable alternative between a still-vital handsome professional in his forties and a good-looking, charming kid. In *Shopgirl*, it's either the suave King Midas of Social Security age or a bum. Give me a break.
Finally, one gets the sense that it's really all about the money for Steve Martin. A lot of name-dropping going on, here: Armani, famous L.A. restaurants (Ray and Mirabelle eat take-out from Spago at Ray's elegantly post-modern house), and so on. Don't forget Jeremy's transformation in that name-designer white suit. Martin couldn't even come up with a fake name for Saks. If he was trying to be satirical about crass commercialism, it must have sailed over my head: the comforts of Ray's life are presented as a glamorous option for Mirabelle, if she just plays along. Martin, in a third-person narration, sums up the action of the film at the end by suggesting Mirabelle would have stayed with Ray if he had loved her just a bit more. Turns out that, to modify Paul McCartney, money can ALMOST buy you love. It never occurs to this Baby Boomer that a healthy, wholesome, decent young woman might want to build a life with someone her own age. *Shopgirl* is a pathetic chauvinist fantasy that isn't as aware of this fact as it thinks it is.
2 stars out of 10 -- the second star earned by some occasionally fanciful direction by Anand Tucker.